How An American GI Grieving During the Korean War Became Known Worldwide

Photo Credit: Sfc. Al Chang / US Army / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
Photo Credit: Sfc. Al Chang / US Army / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Above is a photo of a grieving American GI whose friend was killed in action (KIA) while fighting the Korean War. He was a radio operator who’d just learned his replacement had been killed, and he’s seen receiving comfort from a comrade, a man he didn’t know well. In the background is another reading through casualty forms to complete the appropriate paperwork once the fighting ends.

The juxtaposition of these two acts makes the image incredibly powerful. It was captured by Sfc. Al Chang, a US Army photographer, near Haktong-ni on August 28, 1950. Not only did Chang capture the emotional and powerful moment, he also had a noteworthy military career – in fact, he was a dock worker at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked by the Japanese on December 7, 1941.

Chang went on to enlist in the military, serving during the Second World War, in Korea with the 5th Regimental Combat Team and throughout the Vietnam War. In all cases, he was a photographer with the Army. His most notable works include the official Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri (BB-63) on September 2, 1945.

His photo of the grieving GI, however, is arguably his most famous photo, becoming synonymous with the Korean War.

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The image was featured in the New York City Museum of Modern Art’s The Family of Man photo exhibition. Some 503 images captured from around the world were featured in the gallery in 1955, after which they toured the globe for eight years.

Rosemary Giles

Rosemary Giles is a history content writer with Hive Media. She received both her bachelor of arts degree in history, and her master of arts degree in history from Western University. Her research focused on military, environmental, and Canadian history with a specific focus on the Second World War. As a student, she worked in a variety of research positions, including as an archivist. She also worked as a teaching assistant in the History Department.

Since completing her degrees, she has decided to take a step back from academia to focus her career on writing and sharing history in a more accessible way. With a passion for historical learning and historical education, her writing interests include social history, and war history, especially researching obscure facts about the Second World War. In her spare time, Rosemary enjoys spending time with her partner, her cats, and her horse, or sitting down to read a good book.